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Chinese Shadow Theatre

Chinese Shadow Theatre: History, Popular Religion, and Women Warriors

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Chinese Shadow Theatre
    Book Description:

    Chinese Shadow Theatre includes several rare transcriptions of oral performances, including a didactic play on the Eighteen Levels of Hell, and Investiture of the Gods, a sacred saga, and translations of three rare, hand-copied shadow plays featuring religious themes and women warrior characters.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7599-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Dynasties
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    • CHAPTER ONE An Introduction to Chinese Shadow Theatre
      (pp. 3-13)

      Chinese shadow theatre is one of those rare performing art forms that combines exquisite carving with painting, music, singing, performance, and literature. Already popular at least a thousand years ago, Chinese shadow theatre entertained the young and old, the wealthy and the poor, before the onslaught of television and all manner of electronic entertainment of our present age. As this work hopes to show, however, the drastically diminished need for the liturgical function that shadow theatre served may have been more detrimental to the shadows than hitherto acknowledged. As troupes disband and old masters die, impassioned pleas for its study...

    • CHAPTER TWO History and Myths
      (pp. 14-59)

      The history of Chinese shadow theatre is also an exploration of popular cultural history through the study of the evolution of misconceptions that frequently surround such minor forms of the performing arts. Since the religious function played by shadow theatre constitutes a major theme in this book, this chapter begins with a discussion of why the role served by shadow theatre in popular religious practices has been largely neglected. Despite its intrinsically religious role during the Qing dynasty, however, it in fact served mainly secular functions during the Song dynasty. The evolution of the use of secular performances for religious...

    • CHAPTER THREE The Role of Religion
      (pp. 60-103)

      Chinese popular religion, also known as the common religion, is exceptionally diverse and diffuse.¹ Basically a popular religious culture of lay piety, it was identified in the past as “little” or “folk” tradition in contrast to the “great” or “elite” traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. The non-elite status of popular culture can be misleading, however, since members of the elite frequently also participated in rituals associated with this ubiquitous culture, as shown through the shadow theatre. C.K. Yang terms it “diffused religion” in contrast to institutional religion and notes that it “performs a pervasive function in an organized manner...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Women Warriors in Shadow Plays
      (pp. 104-148)

      One of the most distinctive characteristics of Chinese shadow theatre is the existence and sometimes prevalence of women warriors in its repertoires. Although female warriors were a rare phenomenon within the official armies of imperial China, they populated many a military romance and local opera during the Qing dynasty. They seem to have been particularly common in the shadow playscripts of certain regions. A study of this character type may reveal hitherto neglected aspects of popular culture.

      As mentioned earlier, three different types of shadow plays were performed: ritual playlets, main plays, and post-midnight or extra skits. While the ritual...


    • “Three Opening Blessings”
      (pp. 151-161)

      “The Three Opening Blessings” (sanchutou三出頭) are ritual playlets, propitious opening numbers that preceded the main plays. Basically an orally transmitted tradition in most theatres, it is in the remote villages of the arid, poverty-stricken lands of Gansu that the place of such ritual playlets as an integral part of extended ritual ceremonies has been preserved. Descriptions of the ceremonies surrounding the performance of these playlets demonstrate further the link between drama and religion, as well as the need to discover ancient traditions through studying marginalized forms of culture such as shadow theatre in peripheral regions of China.

      The villages...

    • The Eighteen Levels of Hell
      (pp. 162-171)

      The enactment of the scenes of Hell was one of the most popular shadow repertoires during the Qing and Republican eras, known asThe Eighteen Levels of HellandThe Ten Courts of Hell(Diyu shidian地獄十殿).¹ In Shaanxi and Gansu provinces during the Qing dynasty, 10 per cent of the shadow performers’ “trunks” typically consisted of pieces depicting the various tortures of Hell.² It was even popular in Beiping (present-day Beijing) during the 1930s. The gruesome special effects were considered so entertaining that even the Christian performer Li Tuochen 李脫塵 offered to perform it for the American Genevieve Wimsatt...

    • The Yellow River Magic Formation
      (pp. 172-198)

      During the 1950s the Cultural Bureau of the Lüliang 呂梁 region in Shanxi undertook the project of transcribing recitations of shadow plays from the memories of elderly performers. Copies of 135 plays are collected at the Research Institute of Drama of Shanxi Province 山西省戲劇研究所 at Taiyuan 太原. Although the majority of the transcribed plays are the more popular orally transmitted version of Wanwanqiang 碗碗腔 Shadows (also known as Gauze Screen Shadows 紗窗)¹ originally from Shaanxi, a few of the best older indigenous Piqiang 皮腔 Shadows (also known as Paper Screen Shadows 紙窗) are also preserved.The Yellow River Magic Formation...


    • APPENDIX ONE Suzi 俗字:Non-Standard Orthography
      (pp. 199-206)
    • APPENDIX TWO Collections of Shadow Playscripts
      (pp. 207-217)
    • APPENDIX THREE Main Plays of the Various Chinese Shadow Traditions
      (pp. 218-226)
    • APPENDIX FOUR Shadow Plays Featuring Women Warriors
      (pp. 227-234)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 235-294)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 295-332)
  11. Index
    (pp. 333-343)